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Sunday, 27 February 2011

Fat In Kids' Diet

Written by  Connie Steinberg

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QMy children are one, three and five-years-old. Should I worry about fat in their diets at these ages? Should I give them low-fat or whole milk?

AQuestions about specific food items need to be taken in the context of the person's total dietary and exercise picture. A nutritionist friend of mine was sitting next to a woman at a dinner party who declined to eat the chicken because she had read in the newspaper that adults eat too much protein and this is detrimental to our health. My friend turned to her and asked, "But how do you know how much protein you are eating?"

We also need to look at your question in the context of your children's eating habits. Not knowing what those are, I can give you only general guidelines.

You should not restrict fat in the diet of children less than two years of age. Breast milk is 3.8 % fat and that's exactly what babies and toddlers need. The nervous system needs fat to develop properly. In addition, if the fat content in a food item is too low, then the concentration of the other nutrients, such as protein and calcium, may be too high for very young children's kidneys to handle. And when fat in the diet is either too high or too low, calcium is not properly absorbed. For all these reasons, children should drink full-fat milk until the age of two but they should not exceed three cups of milk a day.

Some people believe that limiting fat for children over two may prevent cardio-vascular disease later on in life. This has not been shown to be true except where there is a known family history of cardio-vascular disease or risk factors such as high cholesterol. Assuming a varied, healthy diet, there is no reason to restrict children to low-fat milk if the children are of normal weight and there is no family history of cardio-vascular disease.


The level of fat in children's diets should be considered from about the age of six or seven, but this goes beyond what kind of milk they drink. It's a good idea to get your children into the habit of not snacking on high-fat snacks like potato chips or Cheetos in front of the television, and to make sure they get enough physical activity. It's important to have a framework for snacks. For example, you can tell them they can have ice cream three times a week during the summer and once a week they can go to the store and buy whatever snack they want. Some families make candy a special weekend treat and don't allow it during the week.

Of course you should make sure that your children eat a healthy, balanced diet in general and that means following the food pyramid:

  • Six to eleven servings of bread, grain or cereal including pasta; (one slice or bread or a half a cup of rice is a serving - less for younger children);

  • Three to five servings of vegetables;

  • Two to four servings of fruit, and I would recommend including a source of vitamin C and a source of vitamin A (e.g. dark-green leafy or orange fruits and vegetables have vitamin A; vitamin C is found in all citrus fruits as well as strawberries, melon, broccoli, cabbage, and peppers);

  • Two to three servings of milk, yogurt or cheese;

  • Two to three servings of protein such as meat, poultry, fish, beans or nuts (a serving of meat is about 2-3 oz. of cooked meat i.e. a small hamburger patty.)

  • Fats, oils and sugars should be eaten sparingly. You only need a couple of tablespoons a day of vegetable fat to fill your dietary needs.
Last modified on Sunday, 30 October 2011 14:35
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Connie Steinberg

Connie Steinberg

Connie Steinberg, MS, is a clinical nutritionist.

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